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Interesting discussion on neogeography challenges


The discussion over at High Earth Orbit highlights a couple of the challenges GIS professionals face, doing neogeography or otherwise.

What we realized was that these criticisms are reflections that GIS itself is facing:

  • lack of metadata,
  • amateurs doing analysis, and
  • the loss of cartography

However because web maps are more public and involve feedback mechanism such as comments or blog posts, then they are much more visible and loudly critiqued.

As much as we’d all like to pin the blame on a particular software package, similar to the whole Microsoft is holding us back mentality, it’s counter-productive. How we use the tools that are available, how we develop alternative tools and how we promote our products and skills all need to be considered. You can make a decent map in ArcMap (just go look at the ESRI map books and tell me that cartography is lost). I think we lose sight of the time and effort it takes to make a good product and we’re not really instilling that ethic in our students. Being able to use the tools that you have effectively is always an issue in any field. Part of what I’ve noticed is a real struggle for a lot of the students to be able and willing to use help files and online forums and really try to discover, on their own, a solution for the task at hand. And to push beyond the easiest and quickest solution to make something good. Too often, “good enough” really isn’t. We need to have, if not high standards, at least decent standards so we can start really moving forward.

The focus on Google Maps and how easy it is to make a mashup and learn something new as soon as you overlay a few layers also doesn’t help. I wonder if this is what they’re calling ‘analysis’. I don’t really see any analysis in many of the mashups and even the promise of more complex maps really hasn’t materialized. The bulk of the mapping sites you see still just use the little pins. Where are the polygons? The Google Maps phenomenon has shifted the focus away from analysis to nifty mapping widgets. It diminishes GIS and impedes the progress of online mapping and general knowledge of GIS. I know I just want to shout every time I hear some yahoo say GIS is easy, he just put up a Google Map of the 20 bars closest to his house. So, yahoo, I want to see some maps of risk due to drunk driving around your bars and crime rates and comparisons of housing costs and number of bars. Get on it.

Maybe we need to be a little patient with the general public. Maybe this is a necessary first step, having these basic maps, to really improving spatial literacy and really understanding the benefits of quality GIS products. Because we’re going to need that background to really achieve the kind of widespread willingness to interact with our tools. But I’ll still grumble a bit about how long it’s taking to get some analysis going on.

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